inFact with Brian Dunning inFact with Brian Dunning


What's Really Behind the UFO News?

Navy UFO videos have been all over the news for years now. Does this mean the government believes in aliens, or do these videos have some other source?

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One possibility is that there actually is some huge new wave of UFOs in our skies. Another possibility is that everyone's carrying around a high resolution camera all day every day, so more UFOs are getting photographed. And yet another possibility is that this phenomenon only exists in the media — driven by a relatively small group of highly motivated ideologues who want you to believe in alien visitation.

And it's this third possibility that has all the evidence on its side. Because it turns out a small group of people driving today's phenomenon — that you probably thought had something to do with UFOs or Chinese drones or threats to national security — are well connected and well financed, and have been spreading their UFO ideas for some 50 years.

So let's follow that timeline! In the 1970s, UFOlogist Jacques Vallee had a young protege, Hal Puthoff, and connected him with a company that ran the CIA's research into the abilities of spoon bender URI Geller, called the Stargate Project. A young intelligence official, Chris Mellon, was briefed on this work and became intensely interested. Geller was kicked out of the program when it was found he was cheating at everything, but Puthoff remained a true believer.

Puthoff next started a new venture with his friend, hotel billionaire Robert Bigelow, who was funding a guy named Budd Hopkins to do alien abduction research, along with his girlfriend Leslie Kean. Bigelow, Puthoff, Vallee, and others started Skinwalker Ranch in Utah, and with their influence, got the FAA to forward all pilots' UFO reports to them.

They brought in Bigelow's friend, US Senator Harry Reid. Reid used his influence to secure $22 million in Pentagon funding, which was given to Bigelow's Skinwalker Ranch, and was mostly spent having Puthoff write a bunch of weird reports detailing his UFO beliefs and possible designs for science fiction spacecraft systems.

When that money ran out, Bigelow used his own money to hire fellow UFOlogist Lue Elizondo. They called themselves AATIP and represented it to the press as a continuation of the defunct Pentagon programs. Its purpose was to take three videos provided by Chris Mellon, and break their existence to the world in a New York Times article specially crafted by Leslie Kean. And the rest is history.

Where are they now? Bigelow, Kean, and Puthoff have started a new consciousness institute to study life after death. Elizondo does the podcast circuit, presenting himself to anyone who will listen as a government UFO expert. Mellon does the same. And Uri Geller? Even he is trying to cling to the crowd, and has come storming back to Twitter, having reinvented himself as a UFO expert.

So, no. There have actually been no interesting UFO developments, not since 2017, and really not even since the 1960s. This core group of believers in a lot of very strange ideas had all the answers they wanted 50 years ago, and haven't changed their tune since.

— Brian Dunning

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References & Further Reading

Aftergood, S. "More Light on Black Program to Track UFOs." Federation of American Scientists, 17 Jan. 2019. Web. 29 Jun. 2021. <>

Bender, B. "How Harry Reid, a Terrorist Interrogator and the Singer From Blink-182 Took UFOs Mainstream: The hidden history of how Washington embraced a fringe field of science." Politico. Politico LLC, 28 May 2021. Web. 30 Jun. 2021. <>

Colavito, J. "How Washington Got Hooked on Flying Saucers." The Soapboax. The New Republic, 21 May 2021. Web. 30 Jun. 2021. <>

Cooper, H., Blumenthal, R., Kean, L. "Glowing Auras and Black Money: The Pentagon's Mysterious U.F.O. Program." The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 16 Dec. 2017. Web. 30 Jun. 2021. <>

Kelleher, C., Knapp, G. Hunt for the Skinwalker. New York: Paraview Pocket Books, 2005.

Kloor, K. "The Media Loves This UFO Expert Who Says He Worked for an Obscure Pentagon Program. Did He?" The Intercept. First Look Institute, 1 Jun. 2019. Web. 30 Jun. 2021. <>

Knapp, G., Adams, M. "I-Team: Documents prove secret UFO study based in Nevada." 8 News Now. Nexstar Media Inc., 4 May 2018. Web. 29 Jun. 2021. <>

Reid, H. "Harry Reid: What We Believe about UFOs." The Big Ideas. The New York Times, 21 May 2021. Web. 29 Jun. 2021. <>

Whalen, A. "Pentagon's Secret UFO Program Investigated Poltergeist Connection to Alien Mystery." Newsweek. Newsweek Digital LLC, 29 May 2018. Web. 29 Jun. 2021. <>


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